By Sally Baxter
May 19, 2013
What makes a journalist? A lot of people – inside and outside the profession – are asking that question. If you think it takes a genius, think again. Good journalists have a representative of their audience in mind who informs every step of their work. My background’s print, so it’s natural for me to refer to a reader. Who’s your reader, a genius or an idiot?
My first Editor was also my dad which means I spent a good deal of my career wondering if I was a journalist at all. I certainly didn’t feel I really was until I was a newspaper reporter, but that was later.
In 1980 I finished high school in Brisbane and went back to Hong Kong to plot my next move.
When I’d left, Bax had a talkback show on Commercial Radio (that’s how small the market was – that was the name of the station) and was filling in the rest of his time with a little computer magazine he’d started.
By the time I returned Computer-Asia had grown enough to warrant all his attention. It was still a tiny operation, running out of a backroom behind the Hong Kong Press Club in Wanchai. There was Bax, John the ad sales guy and Teresa the paste-up artist.
I had pitched up in the middle of the mad rush which happened once a month to get the magazine to bed and Bax dragged me, still jetlagged, the very next day to help out.
I didn’t contribute much I’m sure but it was a great introduction to the swirling excitement of deadlines and the dead calm at the centre, where evey line must be carefully checked first for spelling and punctuation and then again for meaning.
The operation was so small and so tight for cash our final job was to stick the subscriber copies into envelopes as soon as they arrived back from the printer and make sure it was at the front of every newsstand we passed on the way home.
Bax, recognising the value of cheap labour, asked me to stay. But, I told him, I don’t know anything about computers.
“Neither do I,” he said.
“And nor do most of our readers. Our job is to explain it to them.”
Bax told me we were writing for the business people who knew this stuff was important but didn’t have the first idea what it meant.
“Our reader’s probably a middle-aged guy in the middle of a middle-sized company whose boss is either about to invest in computing or has just done so.
“He’s got these weird new people with weird new titles talking a language he can’t understand telling him he’s got to do things differently.
“He doesn’t want to look like an idiot to his boss but he’s not convinced any of this stuff is going to help him do his job better.
“That’s your reader. You get to talk to the experts. Go and ask them the things that guy needs to know.” Read the rest of this entry »